Read John 1
In this part, John speaks to those gathered and then answers some questions from the religious leaders who had been selected to find out what was happening at the Jordan River, somewhere near Bethany.
Realize that if you were reading Mark’s gospel instead of John’s, this is where his story begins. Mark doesn’t even give us a one sentence Christmas Story.
John testifies that the One who comes after him is greater than he is by a whole bunch. The One who comes next has been around since the beginning.
And then John talks about grace and blessings. Humankind has enjoyed both grace and blessing from the Lord all along. But God was kicking things up a notch. The One whose place is at the right hand of the Father had set aside that place for a time and came into the world.
The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. This is the first instance in John’s gospel where he refers to our Savior as Jesus Christ.
The grace and truth of Jesus surpassed John and the law. The glory of God revealed in Jesus Christ surpassed everything and everyone who was now or had come before.
But the priests had some questions. Are you Elijah? John said no. Are you a prophet? No.
Well then, just who are you? We have people to whom we must answer.
I am the voice of one calling in the desert: Make straight the way of the Lord! Most would have recognized those words in that day. They were of the prophet Isaiah.
Now the Pharisees stepped up to bat. Why do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or a prophet?
John replied, my baptism is only of water. Elsewhere we get a little more of an answer that this water baptism was for the forgiveness of sins and that the One who came after him baptized with the Holy Spirit. In one account he charged the religious leaders to produce fruit worthy of repentance.
But in John’s gospel, the focus is on a warning, sort of a heads up. The One that he is preparing the way for is already here. He has been among you and you have not recognized him.
OBTW—I am not even worthy to tie his sandals. For the following that I have acquired—surely the reason that you have ventured from your comfortable places to see me—that following is nothing compared to what is to come. I am not even worthy to be a servant good enough to tie his sandals.
The religious leaders had been looking for the Christ. He was here among them but they did not recognize him. You would think that a 12 year-old kid amazing the teachers in the temple almost 20 years before might have tipped them off, but no.
They only paid attention to the parts of scripture that they wanted to see. They wanted the King of Kings and they wanted him to fit into their pharisaical box. In our time we would say that they rejected the full biblical witness and only saw what fit their expectations.
We shouldn’t show too much disgust for them. We still do this today claiming one scripture over another as it is easier than continuing to search for the full biblical witness given to us. It is much less work to adopt a doctrine that fits your comfort zone than to let the word of God which is alive and active do its work.
Back to John’s gospel. Jesus was coming. John was preparing the way. He wasn’t fixing potholes in the road. He was calling people to repentance.
Those who should have been most prepared to recognize him were not.
This was the state of our fallen and sinful and rebellious world as that day came to an end, but joy would come in the morning.
We live in a different time. The preparation that we make to receive the Lord is in our hearts. We don’t get baptized to get ready to receive the Lord. We are baptized when we receive him, first with the Holy Spirit and publicly with water. We must have hearts of repentance to receive the Lord when he comes into our lives. Many have done this. Many know this joy.
John the Baptizer is not out at the river today calling people to repent and be baptized, but we who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord are here and we are calling. We call people to repent and believe the good news. We are commissioned to this task in this time.
We are called in our commission and our discipleship to prepare the way for the Lord to come into so many hearts.